Bororo Astronomy

Date: 1990
Owner: NASA
Source Type: Images


Although the Maya of Mesoamerica are the Latin American indigenous group most famous for astronomy, nearly all American Indian groups studied the night skies and attached significance to various stars and their movements. The Bororos, a group of about 1000 Indians living in western Brazil, have remained relatively isolated from the modern world and continue to see the heavens in a culturally distinct manner.

The Bororos attached importance to many of the same stars and constellations that Europeans used, among other things, to navigate their way to the New World. The Pleiades pictured here (which the Bororos call Akiri-doge) are among the most important celestial bodies for the Bororos, who use them to mark the passage of time over both a nightly and yearly period. For example, the Akiri-doge set at dusk in late April, a yearly reminder that the rainy season is ending and it is time for the annual male initiation ceremony, one of the group's most important rituals. Similarly, a night's elapsed time can be measured by noting a star or constellation that rises as the sun sets. The fact that it is midnight when that star reaches its zenith and that sunrise will soon follow its setting is independent of concepts of a round earth spinning in a Copernican solar system-- it is knowledge learned from empirical observations.

Most importantly, the Bororos draw meaningful connections between the ordered motions of the cosmos and the ideal order they hope to achieve in their own society. Experienced social time is not necessarily considered the same thing as space-time, yet the ways in which each star and constellation moves in relation to both the horizon and other stars is considered to be a more perfect kind of order than that on earth. Thus the Bororos strive to recreate these cosmic relationships among the various facets of their society by such methods as rituals, the layout of their villages, and how people and stars are named.

Reference: Fabian, Stephen. Space-Time of the Bororo in Brazil. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1992.

CITATION: Pleiades. Courtesy of NASA.